Silent Sleep

In the night, silence– but not stillness of the mind.
We keep awake with the thoughts that can’t move past the traffic jam
of monotonous duties and jobs and chores and
sleep and eat and live.

So in the night before unconsciousness drifts,
We are left with very conscious thoughts. Too much sometimes,
They keep us awake, leaving us to start thinking of
All the Things we must do tomorrow,
All the duties and jobs and chores,
And then, we sleep. Tomorrow we live.

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Bus Route

When I first saw you on the bus I took it for granted that I would see you again.  That first day, I imagined that you lived by the stop before me and that you worked somewhere after my drop-off spot.  You wore blue slacks or pants, office clothes of some kind topped with a long-sleeved knit plaid-like button-up shirt.  I imagined, during our short-shared ride, that you worked in a casual office due to your style of dress.  From that I took that you worked in a creative field of some sort; after all, certain rote types must always wear suits and ties and dress shoes.  The next day, I noticed that you wore sneakers that looked a little worn but clean.  I imagined those sneakers walking down the hall to ask my neighbors if they wouldn’t mind turning down the music.  After all, it was 3 am, and a weekday at that.  They had never listened to me.

The day after that, your eyes hid behind wide sunglasses, and I wondered what type of night you’d had.  I wanted to believe that maybe the neighbors down my hall kept you up again, but the tightness of your jaw betrayed origins of sadness.  I looked away, out of the window, glancing toward a park.  A gathering of homeless people appeared to be trading or sharing items.

The following day, I didn’t bother to look for you and your sneakers and the tenseness in your neck.  Instead I wondered what I did to make your jowls clench.  Perhaps I asked or demanded, rather, that instead of walking those sneakers into work that you walk them alongside me.  My static self and its negativity must have grated on you.  After each fight I wanted to love you less.

I missed you in sadness and silence, knowing that it must be me, and missed you in spite of seeing your shoes down the aisle.  When I was younger and viewed music and lyrics as my religion I listened to the saddest songs in the sky to amp up myself and explain the world I couldn’t control.  The things and people that happened which I hated and had to live with or try to forget.  I don’t remember the song or the actual lyric but do recall that it said something like the reason why we miss someone although we’re with them is because we can envision a life without them.  I wish I knew the actual prettier lyric, but the message transcends the medium.

The weekend passed and I eagerly adjusted my scarf while getting on the bus, ready to do something brave like sit behind you or even next to you.  You weren’t, not the next day or the rest of the week, and I wondered what had happened those several days.  I felt an inexplicable sadness at your disappearance and disappointment at my inaction and projection and self.  Maybe it wasn’t me but I knew it was someone like me.

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Six Hours

Rebecca, late once again, and as usual, Robert waited for her.  Today, she had called shortly before their planned meeting time and told him cheerfully that for once, I’m on time, and I did it for you.  I’ll be there in two minutes.  Aren’t you happy and do you love me?
— Yes, he said.  I’m waiting by the fountain, next to the old men playing chess.  It’s cold, so I hope you have a thick coat this time.
— I do, the red winter one you like.

In reality, he also was on his way, walking through the subway platform to exit on the northwest side.  For the past year he had planned their meeting times half an hour before he himself arrived since she was habitually late.  Nothing could fix her tardiness.

Most men wished (and hardly asked) their girlfriends to stop nagging them, want it more, and stop the inevitable weight gain, but Robert only wished that Rebecca would be on time.  When they went on their first date after they met at the circus he waited about 45 minutes for her on a humid morning, his back so soaked with perspiration that when she finally arrived, he stood apart, unwilling to impart a hug.  Date after date and it went on and on, and she said so sorry!  I’m so sorry.  I always try to leave earlier and somehow, it’s still always later.

She was beautiful and sweet and so he dealt with it for a while.  His resentment grew.  How many hours had he wasted, waiting for her in undesirable conditions?  She came to his house about twice a week, always about 30 minutes late, so that’s one hour there; they usually met for happy hour after work on Wednesdays, and she’d be anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour late, so total, about two hours so far.  On the weekends, when she had to “get ready”, it was at least two hours for each day, and they went out about two times a week, so four hours.  Suppose it was about six hours a week?

On a lucky night, six hours was a full night of sleep.  Three movies.  Two outings.  Like this, he calculated all the ways she had wasted his time.  He was almost at the park, but walked slower as he came closer, as if a direct result from the time she took from him.  Six hours.  I could drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco once a week.  New York to D.C.  Visits to the Smithsonian that never transpired.  He got closer, and saw a crowd near the fountain.  Still in a daze, he didn’t wonder what was going on until he walked right up to people leaning toward the center, gossiping.  He asked a teenage boy what was going on as his eyes searched for Rebecca in her red coat.

Some lady went to the hospital, he said.  A man threw acid on her face.  Random, isn’t it?

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Graciously

The old dining room table was immaculately set with a cream-colored silk tablecloth and a complementary candelabra with burgundy candles.  Sandra had been preparing for tonight’s dinner since the afternoon prior, first clearing the dust and choosing the roses that would grace the table.

The guest was not a close friend, but an acquaintance she met through a friend.  No matter how much time she spent with her– which had accumulated over a period of two years at many different events and parties– Sandra could never reach a level of friendliness and comfort with her.  But she had invited her over for dinner tonight regardless.

She was done being nice.  Being nice, she realized, was boring, and for the past several years, she’d been disciplined, but she came to a realization that politeness caused stress and anxiety, and if there was a solution to get rid of it all at once, it would be to cause a scene involving red wine, fire, and the easily offended.

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Persimmons

Amanda, having lived in the same house for the past two decades, established a routine that wavered little from her first year on the farm.  She woke up at the same time every morning, drank English Breakfast tea with a little milk, and read the town’s newspaper.  It was a two-fold weekly, and shrank every couple of years.  After she was done, she put it in the mulching pile.  Her husband, Tom, didn’t care much for town gossip.

She put on the old boots and made her way out to the first greenhouse to check on the herbs.  They had about thirty greenhouses they customized with curved roofs, so the rain wouldn’t cave the ceilings in.  It was hard work, but it eased up after everything was established.  Tom did most of the work with little help.  In the dusky evenings, Amanda and Tom would go out to the persimmon groves and pick until their talk died down.  One in the box.  One in the mouth.  It was nice and they didn’t need anything more.

“Do you want to go on a cruise?”  Tom asked once.

Amanda had a friend over earlier that morning, picking up her cat after her vacation to the Bahamas.  She told them all about the ship, supposedly large enough for an ice rink, bowling alley, and a ballroom, among other things.  Not that any of those were utilized.  Most of the time was spent in the pool and in the restaurants.  It probably would have been fun, but she never cared much for the sea.  And she knew Tom; he was just offering because he knew she would decline.  And it was OK.

“No, you know how I hate being around large crowds.  And boats.  Seasick.”  She smiled.

He smiled back, taking a sip of his evening whisky.  “I know.”

“Want to pick some persimmons?”  she said.

He got up, walked over and gave her a bear hug, complete with a muffling squeeze.  “This is why I married you, sweets.”

….

Amanda was wearing her nicest dress.  She only had one dress for going out; there was no need for more.  She tried to read the magazines but her mind wandered.  Tom looked intensely focused.  The receptionist called Tom’s name, and they walked over to the door that separated before from after.

….

It was a nasty disease; the most brutal kind, robbing a person of their sanity, personality, and memories, and doing it in the most painfully slow way as possible.

On most days, Tom stared outside, quizzically, asking Amanda how the greenhouses were built, what was grown inside, and who took care of them.  Occasionally he asked her questions about herself, if she liked life on the farm, what she did, and sometimes, if she were married.  He seemed to deflate when she answered yes, but when she would add that they were married to each other, he would immediately brighten and say, “Oh!”

On good days, Amanda would find Tom putting on his boots.  He would wink at her and say,

“Hungry for persimmons, sweets?”

They would go outside to the groves, talking and eating persimmons as if the doctor’s visit happened in another world.  One in the box and one in the mouth, until it was time for bed.

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Pants

Amanda walked outside wearing only a thin, red plaid flannel, well-worn and pink at the elbows. It belonged to her eldest brother, Jeremy, and it was the only item of his that remained after he went away to school.  She wore a new pair of athletic socks with white flip flops.  It was winter, the coldest one yet recorded to date, but she was part of the No Pants movement, and she hadn’t worn pants all year, and she wasn’t about to start now.

The week before, she adorned a proper Christmas sweater with tights.  Her mother, Sally, did not comment on her outfit; she was only happy that she wasn’t completely bare. She didn’t understand teenagers, although she of course been a teenager once; it seemed that the teenage years of her past and her daughter’s present form were completely different breeds, incompatible.

“It’s like the flu virus that keeps on changing.”  She remembered her own mother saying this during her youth, but she felt it didn’t really translate over to her own daughter.  Despite the brazenness of the lack of pants, Sally felt a uncomfortable pride when seeing Amanda’s bare legs walk in and out of her house.  They were beautiful, long, lean and colorful, and her daughter could only be young once, and if a No Pants movement had to occur, now was the right time.

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Reputation

Everything was a soggy mess.  The women were huddled on the paisley couch; the men were standing in the other, with drinks in hand, as if nothing had happened.  The mood was damp.  Dr. Morganmeim left ten minutes prior, angry and offended.  Miriam slowly cleaned up the table.  It hadn’t started out this way; Miriam had planned every single detail to ensure a night of success– the number of guests, of course; the dinner menu, accounting for allergies and preferences; the right blend of social stratifications and such.  The dinner party wasn’t small enough to be considered intimate, and it wasn’t too large in which someone could leave unnoticed.

Dr. Morganmeim moved to Arlington just four and a half months prior, bringing his liberal West Coast sensibilities with him.  Arlington was a small town, and most were curious about Dr. Morganmeim because he had no roots there.  Most of the town could trace their ancestry to the very first settlers, and were proud of it.  During morning coffee at Miriam’s, Mary Pepper told the girls that she heard Dr. Morganmeim was a descendent of the first governor of the colony, but she didn’t know why or how people thought this.  It spread like wildfire.

As a neighbor, it was Miriam’s duty to bring Dr. Morganmeim into the town, whether or not he had deep roots.  Of course, it would be nice if he had some clout, but nevertheless, he was a doctor.  Not a real one– but a head one– some people disagreed about his profession, but mental illness was not something talked about out loud, not even at the morning coffees or dinner parties.

However– one thing that was discussed at much length, without any clarifying details, which lead to more discussion and speculation– was his marital status.  He seemed to be single with no children.  Yet he had a ring on his finger.  Well, not really.  He had a pale band that suggested a ring was missing.  Mrs. Pallington noticed it in church, during the hymns.  Very religious, she would lower her head while singing and she could not keep her eyes away from the tan hand with the glowing, white band.  She told this story at morning coffee, and repented that her mind strayed from God that Sunday morning.

The gossip was enough.  Miriam wanted to move the topics to the usual:  upcoming debutantes and parties, the town fundraiser charity dinner, and the Christmas pageant.  She planned a dinner and invited all the right people.  Miriam had a reputation for planning perfect parties, until the night she invited Dr. Morganmeim and until the moment when her husband shot the questions.

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